WR Wes Welker
As preparations pick up heading into Thursday night's preseason opener against the Ravens at Gillette Stadium the Patriots took practice to that very game field Monday night. The full-pads action was part of a special event held under the evening sky and bright lights in front of a large crowd of New England season ticket holders.
While the surroundings were prime time in nature, the execution on the field couldn't quite fill the same bill. New England had a spirited but somewhat sloppy workout that included plenty of situational, down-and-distance, red zone and end-of-game type work. The practice started with the team doing the bulk of its usual pregame stretching, positional and group work before rolling right into a normal two-plus hour session.
Tom Brady got plenty of reps and has become tradition over the last year found decent going of it when he found Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Brady even mixed in some work with the second units on both offense and defense as Bill Belichick worked a wide variety of groupings in likely preparation for the heavy substitutions that generally accompany the first preseason game of the year.
As has also been the case in camp, the three backup quarterbacks looked less than consistent in their work with their various groups. Matt Cassel got the bulk of the backup reps and looks prepared to see plenty of action on Thursday. Matt Gutierrez and rookie Kevin O'Connell shared the few leftover practice reps and neither did much to stand out.
Practice did close on a relative high, at least for the offense. Brady took the ball over from 40 yards out with 25 seconds to play in an end-of-game situation. He quickly picked up 20 yards on an in-cut to Moss before moving things closer with an out to Faulk who ran out of bounds. Then Brady hit Moss for a pretty score crossing the back of the end zone. Good times, unless you were a blue jersey and play for the New England defense.
As Belichick said to describe the double-edged action of a goal line drill earlier in camp, "We win and we lose." At least the next time the Patriots take to the Gillette Stadium field they'll all have been there before under the bright lights, even the rookies. And, finally, they'll get to bang heads with another team.
Who's hot:Wes Welker. The wideout returned from PUP with some uncharacteristic drops on Saturday. He's been money the last two days and was the only consistent option for the passing attack for much of Monday night's work.
Who's not:Benjamin Watson. The tight end had the chance to make a few big plays in the red area in practice and had a couple drops. He's just too inconsistent with his hands. He had an impressive stretch over the weekend where he caught six straight passes. But Monday night he had a couple key, inexcusable drops.
Play of the Day:Tom Brady and Randy Moss yet again. Late in the practice during late-game situational work Brady capped a hurry-up drive with a completion to Moss crossing the back of the end zone for the score. Antwain Spann had good coverage on the play, but the ball was perfectly thrown and Moss made the play. Pretty.
Welbourn on boardAnother day another veteran offensive line addition as the Patriots signed former Eagles and Chiefs tackle John Welbourn Monday afternoon. The nine-year veteran has played in 103 career games with 95 starts in his time in Philadelphia (1999-03) and Kansas City (2004-07). The 6-5, 310-pound former fourth-round pick started every game for the Chiefs last fall.
Like Barry Stokes before him, Welbourn brings a combination of versatility and experience to the training camp mix. He's played both guard and tackle over the years.
To make room for Welbourn, who was on the field wearing No. 69 and taking right tackle reps in the evening workout, the team released defensive lineman Chris Norwell. The undrafted free agent out of Illinois had signed with the team May 2.
Hump daysWorking through the second week of training camp and now knocking on the door of 20 practice sessions, there is little doubt that the players are starting to feel the cumulative effects of what many admit is by far the worst part of the year.
"Oh yeah. This I call the hump days right here," running back Laurence Maroney said. "We've been through hell and back. These are days you just have to fight through them, find a way just to get through them and sooner or later we are getting closer to the top of the hill and we are on our way down."
Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl winner as a head coach, clearly carries a certain cache in league coaching circles. On the other end of the spectrum is new Ravens head coach and former special teams coordinator John Harbaugh. The rookie coach spoke recently about following Belichick's career from afar and hoping to get a little personal time to break bread when the two cross paths Thursday in Foxborough.
"Coach Belichick is a guy I've known peripherally since he was at Cleveland and I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati because his special teams coordinator was one of my best friends, Scott O'Brien, and I used to go up and visit and talk special teams. Then, coach Belichick being there, we met, not that we really got to know each other. So you watch a guy and obviously track his career, and you have an opportunity at times to see him at Combines, see him at the Senior Bowl in Mobile (Ala.) and just get to know him a little bit and ask him a lot of questions.
"I've admired him for a long time. It's going to be fun. I don't know if 'fun' is the right word. It's going to be an honor and a thrill to go up before the game to shake his hand and chat. I hope he talks to me."
Headset disinterestBelichick continued to show a lack of interest in using the defensive player headset communication devices. The new system calls for two players to be designated for each game to have the communication device in their helmets. Only one of those players can have the helmet with the speaker on the field at any time.
Just days before the preseason opener, it's sounding less and less likely that the Patriots will even use the system on Thursday night, or even moving forward for that matter.
"Well, we haven't used them yet. It is not really a high priority right now," Belichick said. "We need to just go out there and learn how to play good defense and learn our assignments. We will get to the other stuff when we get to it. It's not a high priority right now."
While the system, limiting the devices to just two players, seems flaw in general. It's even less likely such a limited scenario would work in the heavy substitution of preseason action.
"Right. No argument here," Belichick said.
After a slew of players were absent from Monday's morning session, those not seen at the evening workout included the team's five PUP players as well as Jason Webster, James Sanders, Rodney Harrison, Kyle Eckel, Ryan O'Callaghan, Matt Light and Marcus Pollard. … Rookie cornerback Jonathan Wilhite limped off the field with trainers after one play in which he covered Welker in the back corner of the end zone. He jogged a bit on the sideline afterwards. ... Belichick admitted in his morning press conference that he's spoken with Junior Seau this summer but beyond that shed little light on the linebacker's future. … C.J. Jones had a number of nice catches with the second unit in the evening workout. … Jerod Mayo showed his athletic ability and football savvy to snuff out a screen pass and run Kevin Faulkdown behind his blockers in one drill. … Eric Alexander likes to stand under the goal posts on the practice fields and give the official call on field goal attempts. He did it again Monday night, but instead of standing in a larger group of defensive players on the goal line as is the case on the regular practice field, he stood alone under the uprights on the game field. He then took his act a step further by mimicking the stops of a real official after the kick flew over: first he'd take one step forward, then he'd look to his side as if to confer with another official and then he'd angle toward the sideline to give the signal. Funny stuff. More than a comedian, Alexander had a couple interceptions earlier during the practice. … The Patriots will return to the regular training camp practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for a single workout on Tuesday, a 2:30 p.m. session that is open to the public. But as always fans are urged to check patriots.com for the latest practice schedule updates and any potential weather-related closings.